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Europe’s wild places for plants under threat

A new report reveals that one in four internationally important sites for wild plants and threatened habitats across 14 European countries has no legal protection.

May 19 2010

Uncontrolled tourist development and poor forestry practices are the most widespread threats to these areas.

Launched today, Plantlife’s new report ‘Important Plant Areas in Europe 2002-2010: Priority sites for plants and people’ summarises information from 1222 Important Plant Areas (IPAs) in 14 European countries.

IPAs are internationally significant sites for wild plants and threatened habitats, identified due to the presence of threatened species, their overall botanical richness and/or the presence of threatened habitats.

The report also reveals the most serious threats to these internationally important sites:

  • 47% of IPAs are threatened by poor forestry practices – The most diverse forests are in SE Europe, eg. in Montenegro. Old growth forests are particularly species-rich, with losses occurring through deforestation or intensified management, while grasslands are threatened by plantations of conifers or alien tree species.
  • 39% of IPAs are under threat from development for tourism and recreation – uncontrolled expansion of hotels and other infrastructure for tourism can have devastating impacts on plant habitats. Tourists heading to popular destinations such as the Dalmatian coast in Croatia and Montenegro or ski resorts in Bulgaria may be unwittingly contributing to these problems as short term gains from tourism development win out over longer term sustainable tourism and the benefits of conserving the biodiversity of these areas.
  • 32% of IPAs are affected by land abandonment, as people leave unproductive farms and scrub grows up, affecting species-rich grassland and other habitats maintained by grazing.

The report is launched as the future of the world’s plants is under discussion in Nairobi (where government representatives from around the world are preparing for the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Japan in October). Plantlife’s report highlights the threats and lack of protection for wild plants, the fundamental building blocks of our environment across Europe, and Plantlife is calling for increased protection and better management of all Important Plant Areas.

“Conserving Important Plant Areas provides a healthy environment for all wildlife, and is a cost effective means of mitigating some of the effects of climate change,” said Elizabeth Radford, Plantlife’s International Programme Manager.

“However, there is a lot more to do – as our report shows, many of these sites have no legal protection against development and damage, and it is up to all of us, including governments, land managers, protected area managers and local communities, to build on this work and ensure that future generations can enjoy the many benefits and pleasures that these sites bring to Europe.”

“Wild plants are not an optional extra in modern Europe,” added Ms Radford. “They provide many people with food, grazing, medicinal and aromatic plants, and many undervalued benefits including drinking water, flood control, prevention of erosion and desertification, carbon capture and a genetic safety-net for crops and medicines. The wild plants and landscapes that make up Important Plant Areas are also an integral part of the cultural heritage of Europe and act as a living testament to the many cultures which have shaped our continent.”

For more information or images contact:

Elizabeth Radford International Programme Manager T 07736 073453
Sue Nottingham Senior Press Officer T 01722 342757 / Mobile 0786 1655438